Midwinter

Posted on May 27, 2010

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This story is Part 3 in the series Fire and Water. It follows A Storm of Dragons. To read from the beginning, please visit the Index Page.

***

Malen woke as the first red rays of the sun reached over the eastern mountains. He felt the emptiness in the bed beside him and smiled, remembering that Lourlan was coming home today. He got up and dressed, the thought of her return energizing him.

It was cold. The icy water with which he splashed his face made him shudder even as it banished the last traces of sleep. He pulled on his favorite wool tunic, which Lourlan had made for him herself long ago. Even after years of constant use, this garment was still as whole and deeply green as when it was new, thanks to the little magic she had woven into it. Not magic, she had told him once; it’s love that keeps it strong.

He went into the kitchen where Findol was making their breakfast. He looked up when he heard Malen enter and immediately poured him a cup of strong black tea. Malen took it and sat at the table. The comforting smell of shortbread filled the air and made Malen’s mouth water. He watched as Findol took the bread from the brick oven and set it on the table to cool.

“Morning, son.” He sipped the tea, feeling its warmth course through him.

“Morning, Papa.” Findol smiled and poured his own cup of tea. He joined Malen at the table. He broke the steaming bread and passed some to Malen, and they ate.

Findol looked Malen, his dark brows furrowed.

“Do you ever worry that she won’t come home? The old tales say that once a selkie gets her skin back, she returns to the sea forever. They say you could hide her pelt and keep her with you, but you let her go to sea every year.”

“How could I force your mother to do anything?” Malen chuckled at the thought, and Findol nodded, smiling. “They’re only tales, son. Your mother is what she is, and if I tried to make her be something else, she would naturally seek to escape such a prison. Better to let her visit her side of the family when she pleases. She always returns because she knows she’s free.”

Findol’s frown lingered.

“What if she chose one day not to come back?”

Malen sighed. He got up and poured them both more tea, then sat down again.

“I trust her,” he said. “And so must you. Love isn’t binding another to your will. You’ll understand one day.”

He looked at Findol, who was the image of his mother: the same unruly black hair, same pale skin, and the same fine-boned face. His blue eyes and sturdy body came from Malen. Findol was strong-willed like Lourlan, and Lourlan always said he had Malen’s ability to charm the creatures from the sea with a smile. Malen felt his cheeks go a bit pink at the thought, and he grinned, earning himself a questioning look from his son.

Malen Grey knew himself to be the luckiest man in the village of Lualor. He had a fine wife and a fine son, and he himself was a competent fisherman who provided well for his family. His wife was coming home today, and in a few days at the midwinter solstice, his son would see his twentieth birthday and reach his manhood.

Life was superb.

Malen finished his tea and helped Findol clean the dishes. When they were done, Malen got some clothes for Lourlan to wear after she shed her pelt. He and Findol then put on their coats and went north to the headland to meet her.

The day was fine and the sea smooth as glass as they sat on the rocks to wait. Malen judged it would not be long, as Lourlan usually returned by midmorning. They saw a few boats setting off to fish to the southwest, but they would be long gone by the time Lourlan arrived. They had this portion of the coast to themselves.

Midmorning came and went, and the short day edged quickly towards noon. Malen began to worry, hoping Lourlan was safe, and he saw Findol nervously playing with the dragon scale he wore around his neck. That only made Malen more anxious. He wondered if he should take his boat out to look for her.

Finally, an hour past noon, they heard seals barking on the other side of a large rock standing alone in the deeper surf. They both stood up, relieved, and Findol started to run to the water line. Malen caught his arm, stopping him.

“Give your mother her privacy. She doesn’t even like me to see her change.”

“How can you be certain it’s her out there?”

“I’d know the sound of her voice anywhere, whether seal or woman,” Malen said, smiling. Findol rolled his eyes, skeptical and comforted at once.

Presently they saw Lourlan come ashore, human now, her sealskin draped around her. Findol waited as Malen went to greet her. When she was dressed, they joined him, and Lourlan embraced her son.

“Welcome home, Mama.”

“I missed you both while I was away.” She released him and wrung seawater from her hair.

“You were later than usual,” Malen said. “I’m glad you’re safe. We were starting to worry. Was there trouble?”

She looked from Malen to Findol, dark eyes flashing in the sunlight.

“There was no trouble for me or my kin. Let’s go home. I’m longing for some good hot tea.” They started walking.

“And then we’ll have a long talk. Something is happening in the deep, something that will have impact farther than we can see.”

She glanced at Findol. Malen’s eyes followed her gaze to rest on their son’s talisman as it glinted against his chest.

“The time is coming soon when we’ll have to gather all the friends we have. We have things to do. But first there must be tea.”

She smiled and broke into a run, and they raced each other home in the bright afternoon.

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Posted in: #FridayFlash, Fantasy